Libya's supreme court on Thursday invalidated the internationally recognised parliament, setting the stage for deepening political chaos in the violence-wracked North African nation.
Libya’s elected parliament Thursday rejected a supreme court ruling nullifying it, saying the decision had been taken “under the threat of arms”, deepening a power struggle in the violence-wracked nation.
“The House of Representatives rejects the verdict under these conditions and says it is still functioning, as is the government,” lawmaker Adam Abu Sakhra said, reading from a prepared statement.
The internationally recognised legislature said it was elected on June 25 by the people in “free and credible” polls and therefore would not disband, Abu Sakhra said on Libya Awalan television.
It charged that the ruling announced earlier on Thursday by the Tripoli-based supreme court was taken “under the threat of arms” because the capital is “ruled by outlawed militias”.
In a shock decision, the supreme court invalidated the parliament and nullified a consitutional amendment that led to the June 25 elections.
Supreme court chief Kamal al-Dahan said the verdict — in response to a petition by an Islamist lawmaker — cannot be appealed and effectively nullifies all decisions that result from the June poll.
That ruling could plunge Libya into further chaos and violence and cement the divide between Islamists and nationalist militias and their political backers vying for power in the oil-rich North African country.
The court ruling prompted celebratory gunfire in Tripoli, an AFP correspondent said.
Most of Tripoli, like second city Benghazi in the east, fell under the control of Islamist militias after fierce fighting in the summer.
Citing security concerns, the elected parliament took refuge in the remote eastern town of Tobruk, along with the internationally recognised government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani.
Three years after dictator Moamer Kadhafi was ousted and killed in a 2011 NATO-backed revolt, Libya is awash with weapons and powerful militias and run by rival governments and parliaments.
The UN mission in Libya, which has been trying to broker a political deal to end the violence, said it would study the court ruling closely.
In a statement, it called on all sides “to act responsibly and desist from taking any action that would escalate the existing polarisation or result in a further deterioration of the security situation”.
– Power struggle and geography –
Libya descended into further chaos after the June vote.
The General National Congress, which is backed by the powerful Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) coalition of Islamist militias, refused to recognise the new parliament dominated by anti-Islamists, held rival sessions in Tripoli and formed its own government.
The power struggle between Islamists and nationalists was reflected by violence across the country.
Islamist lawmaker Abderrauf al-Manai petitioned the supreme court, arguing that the elected parliament was in breach of the constitution because it was sitting in Tobruk rather than in Tripoli or Benghazi.
“I hope all parties will respect the decision of the court,” Manai told television channel Al-Nabaa.
GNC vice-president Salah al-Makhzoum said he will respect the ruling and assembly spokesman Omar Hmidan said the Congress is now the country’s “sole legitimate body”.
Former rebels who fought Kadhafi have formed powerful militias and seized control of large parts of turmoil-gripped Libya over the past three years.
The supreme court ruling follows intense clashes between pro-government militias and Islamist fighters in Benghazi that have killed more than 30 people in the past three days, according to medics.
Witnesses have described the fighting, which included heavy shelling, as among the fiercest since former general Khalifa Haftar launched a new government-backed offensive on the eastern city in October.
Islamist militias, including fighters from the radical Ansar al-Sharia group, took near total control of Benghazi in July.
Ansar al-Sharia is blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist group for its alleged role in a deadly 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.
France, Britain and the United States on Tuesday asked a Security Council committee to add the group to a UN terror list for its ties to Al-Qaeda.